Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
December 14, 2022
The Chair and General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently penned a letter to congressional appropriators, pleading for additional funding for the agency in the fiscal year 2023 appropriations bill, which Congress has not yet passed. The letter notes that its funding has remained at $274 million since 2014, but whether that should justify additional funding is worth scrutinizing.
The NLRB letter declares that the agency needs “additional funding in FY2023 to simply maintain current operations without any investments in critical infrastructure and cybersecurity needs.” It further states that “we will be forced to reduce our operational capacity, including likely furloughs of the dedicated career employees at the agency, unless Congress provides funding to cover these costs.”
While it remains unclear whether the current Congress will pass a permanent funding bill before a change in political control of the House of Representatives takes place in January, the relevant appropriations committees may want to look at the NLRB’s numbers before inflating its budget whenever they do pass a bill.
Specifically, the NLRB’s case numbers have been steadily declining for at least 20 years, notwithstanding the agency letter’s complaint of growing workloads for its employees. For instance, one of the NLRB’s core functions is to process unfair labor practice (ULP) charges, and in 2001 the NRLB processed 28,124 ULPs. In 2022, it processed only 17,998, a drop of 36%. The drop in the number of complaints issued based on those ULPs was even more considerable. In 2001, the NLRB issued 2,247 complaints but only 738 in 2022, which amounts to 67% fewer such complaints. The Board itself issued 67% fewer decisions too (748 in 2001 vs. 244 in 2022).
Another central role the NLRB has is to handle representation petitions filed by labor unions and, when appropriate, to manage representation elections, both of which have declined considerably. In 2001, unions filed 4,145 representation petitions, whereas in 2022 there were only 2,072, another considerable drop of 50%. Similarly, the number of representation elections held dropped by a similar amount from 2,645 in 2001 to 1,522 in 2022—a decline of 42%.
Meanwhile, the NLRB’s staff seems to spend plenty of time not working on the agency’s business. In fact, in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, NLRB employees racked up 7,485 hours of so-called “official time,” which is the euphemism used to describe the phenomenon of government employees performing work for their labor union while still being paid by taxpayers.
The issue of official time is not a new one, and the Chamber in 2012 noted that NLRB employees had spent more hours of official time than any other agency (and quadruple the average) and also cited a December 2009 report by the NLRB’s Office of Inspector General, which questioned whether this practice “meets the statutory test of reasonableness, necessity, and public interest.”
The NLRB’s recent letter asking for more funding is not the first of its kind; the agency sent a similar one in 2011 warning that it might have to impose an immediate three-month furlough of every one of its employees and “force the NLRB to curtail all agency operations” because there were “no programs to eliminate or postpone.”
Given the downward trendline of its case intake, combined with NLRB employees’ profligate use of official time to do union work, Congress may want to think carefully about how much the agency really needs before cutting a bigger check.